LITTLE ROCK — A national education initiative intended to make sure public school students in the U.S. keep pace with better performing students in other countries takes too much control away from the state and is not in the best interest of students, critics told state legislators Monday.
Opponents of the Common Core State Standards Initiative urged lawmakers to abandon the initiative that is scheduled to be fully implemented this school year.
Development of the Common Core standards for grades K-12 was coordinated by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards are internationally benchmarked, meaning that they seek to ensure that students in this country learn at the same pace as students in other parts of the world who have been outperforming them.
The standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The federal government has not made the standards mandatory, but it has awarded additional points in the Race to the Top federal grant program to states that adopt them.
Arkansas implemented Common Core in grades K-2 two years ago and in grades 3-8 last year. Implementation is scheduled to be completed in the coming school year with the addition of grades 9-12.
Several opponents of the initiative testified before the House and Senate education committees on Monday, the first day of a two-day hearing. Among them was Virginia Wyeth, a high school English teacher in the Little Rock School District.
"Every single teacher I know believes vehemently that excessive testing is harming our kids and destroying meaningful education," Wyeth told the panel.
Wyeth said her school administered 24 standardized exams last year, plus 31 Advanced Placement exams, with makeup days for all 55 tests. Common Core could double the number of tests, she said.
"When a student hardly gets an opportunity to learn what he’s being tested over, there is something significantly broken," she said.
Grace Lewis of Mount Vernon testified that the Common Core standards lead to rigidity in classroom instruction. She said she began researching Common Core after her son began having trouble in math class because he was required to solve problems using a particular method.
"To me, as long as a student can show his or her work and has the correct answer, then I feel the problem shouldn’t be counted incorrect regardless of which method they use," she said.
Sandra Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform, testified by phone that she served on Common Core’s Validation Committee, but her critiques apparently were ignored. High school English, math, science and engineering teachers and literary scholars were excluded from the committee that developed the standards and were barely represented on the validation committee, she said.
"There was no authentic validation," Stotsky said.
Joy Pullman, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Chicago, testified by phone that a stated goal of the Common Core standards is to prepare students for success in college and the work place, but she said education also should produce well-rounded individuals who are able to think critically — which she said does not appear to be contemplated by Common Core.
"Educating a child’s intellect and character for citizenship, as if he is a human being and not a robot, also educates him to be a productive worker," she said.
Several opponents complained that the standards were not subjected to pilot tests and that teachers, parents and legislators were not adequately informed about the standards or given a say in their adoption, and that Arkansas has only limited ability to change the standards.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said the state Department of Education has held public hearings on the standards and has worked hard to make sure school districts are kept up-to-date. He said the state can adapt the standards to suit its needs and acknowledged that the new standards are not the only fix that public education in Arkansas needs.
"This is just a part of it," he said.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said the Legislature has had "robust discussions" on Common Core.
"I don’t feel blindsided by it," she said.
The panel was scheduled to hear more testimony Tuesday.